Have you ever been asked to leash your joyfully romping dog while on a trail or in a park?
What was your response? Embarrassment at being called out for your scofflaw behavior, followed by annoyance or anger? Why shouldn't your well-behaved dog be allowed to play off his leash?
Maybe it's during a time of day when the area is mostly deserted. He's not hurting anything, and he wouldn't attack anyone; he's a good dog. He might even be one of those rare dogs who come instantly to a recall cue, even if they're having fun chasing a squirrel.
Maybe you say, "Don't worry; he's friendly," or "My voice is the leash," or "He doesn't bite."
Please don't. Your dog's personality or behavior isn't at issue.
Leash laws exist to protect others: other people who might feel threatened by your dog; other people with dogs on a leash who might feel threatened by your dog; other people with children who might be frightened by dogs; other people with poultry or livestock that could be harassed or killed by your dog; other animals and birds — in protected areas or not — who might be threatened or killed by your dog.
Loose dogs scare people who don't like dogs or who have allergies. They can knock over toddlers or seniors in a second before you can call them off or leash them. People who don't like or are afraid of dogs have just as much right to enjoy parks and trails as people who love dogs. And they have the right to enjoy them without fear of being assaulted by loose dogs, friendly or not.
Dogs walking on-leash with their people also have the right to enjoy streets, trails and parks unmolested by off-leash dogs. Farmers lose livestock to loose dogs. Off-leash dogs kill poultry, pet rabbits, pet cats, small dogs and wildlife. They stress groundnesting birds or destroy their eggs.
They disturb the healthy ecology of natural areas. The presence of off-leash dogs causes wildlife to move away from their normal habitat, reducing their ability to eat, reproduce and rest normally. They must expend more energy to seek food, with fewer places to find it. The resulting stress affects reproduction and growth and suppresses the immune system, increasing vulnerability to disease and parasites.
If your loose dog causes an accident, injures someone or damages property, you can be fined or found negligent in a civil suit. All of these are reasons why leash laws exist.
Known as "running-at-large statutes," they regulate the safety of dogs and humans and help to prevent accidents, in much the same way as seat belt laws or child car seat laws. They are primarily local ordinances, although two states — Michigan and Pennsylvania — have statewide statutes requiring dogs to be under control when off their owners' premises.
Cities, towns and counties can establish leash laws with conflicting requirements. Leash laws might be in effect only at certain times of day (between sunset and sunrise, for instance) or during certain seasons, such as bird or wildlife breeding periods or, in beach cities, during the summer tourist season.
It's up to you to know the laws in your area and abide by them. It's easy to give the city or county code office a call to find out what regulations apply where you live. Or you could read the signs posted at park entrances or trailheads.
Just because you don't believe your dog will cause any harm doesn't give you an "ignore-the-law" card. Politely being asked to leash your dog isn't an assault on your freedom.
All you have to say, in a friendly tone of voice: "Of course, sorry about that. Sunny, let's get your leash on. Enjoy your walk!"